A friend called recently to ask for some advice on sleep training. I could hear in her voice as she spoke that she was at the end of her rope.
The experience of sleep deprivation can overwhelm you like a tidal wave. It's like nothing else matters. Nothing else exists. You can hardly breathe, let alone have a reasonable conversation with another human being. All. you. Need. Is. Sleep. Just a stretch... five hours would be incredible! It would change your life. And when you do get those hours -- uninterrupted -- it is like a thick fog has lifted off your brain and you realize, suddenly, how lucky you are to be a mom.
When you haven't slept for a stretch longer than a few hours at a time, the very last thing you are is a bubbling, glowing mother of a wonderful little gift of a child. You are a mess. For a split second, you find yourself hating your husband for getting you into this, hating yourself for not being able to cope, even resenting the beautiful little thing in your arms. I know of moms who, when they woke up to feed, would carry the baby back into their bedroom and stand at their husband's side of the bed and kick the bed... over and over again. If they weren't able to sleep, why should he? My mother-in-law had a friend who made her husband sit upright in bed the entire time she was feeding. He must have been comatose -- but the uprightness made her happy. An aunt admitted to me that she once physically threw my eldest cousin across the room at my uncle. True story!
Have you been there? Are you deep in the trenches with newborn babies or young toddlers or both? Our second child was born when our first was just 17 months old. We had a newborn and a very young toddler and the worst thing anyone could do was ask me how it was going. I would burst into tears at the slightest provocation -- I have cried in ladies' bathrooms, in the car, at parks, on the couch, in every room in my house. I couldn't see straight, let alone step back to gain some perspective. There is very little you can say to someone in this position to make them feel any better. The best thing you can do is offer to take one, or both, of the babies for a few hours and send their mom to bed.
What would I say today if I had the opportunity to sit down with myself in those moments... to whisper softly to her in the darkness of that midnight room, as she sat with a sweet-smelling, sleepless newborn in her arms, or cradled a feverish toddler who had woken her only 20 minutes after she had managed to get the baby down? I would say this...
Beloved one, you are beautiful... right here, in this moment. You are precious, a gift to this child and to every-one whose life he will touch. Your are irreplaceable: The only person who can do this for your child. Know your beauty and your preciousness. Breathe it in until it soothes your sobbing heart and opens your eyes to the feeling of his breathe in your neck, the curling of his little fingers in your hair, the dampness of his skin as you kiss his forehead. This will not last. It will be gone like the dew an hour after sunrise. Be careful with this moment or you could miss it... rest now in the knowledge that you are doing your best, your very best, for this child. This too will pass.